Sun Tzu wrote in “The Art of War” that “in the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” The manufacturing world and the electrical industry are currently in such a position because of the “silver tsunami” – the coming wave of retirements among older workers – and a severe lack of younger workers entering the field to fill the void. However, they’re also on the possible precipice of an exciting new chapter.
The chaos for employers – and the industry itself – is a skills gap that has existed for years, yet the current situation can aptly be described as growing meteorically. There’s a great loss of institutional knowledge when the employment funnel doesn’t refill to a level high enough for it to be passed on and adopted. Numerous industry and human resources studies estimate that 10,000 baby boomers are leaving the workforce each day. According to “Bridge the Gap,” a white paper from the Noria Corp., this leaves an estimated 3.5 million manufacturing jobs needing to be filled by 2025. The search for qualified employees has become massively cost prohibitive, putting yet another drain on profit margins.
This presents a great opportunity for shifting the paradigm of electrical safety by taking advantage of the knowledge the younger generation has and applying it to workplace management. Instead of the archaic and dangerous operations that existed prior to their entry, there’s a setting that allows for a quick change … if employers/management are willing to buy in and provide those technologies.
The top electrical safety issues today are the same as they were 30 years ago because of a “we’ve always done it this way” mindset that has resisted many technological advancements for fear of “machines taking our jobs.”
However, young people now entering the workforce have spent their lives using levels of technology that prior generations couldn’t fathom.
Playing virtual and augmented reality games has prepared these young workers for the same technology to be applied to their training and operating processes, while the computer systems and courses in their school years laid the foundation for their use and management of various digital operation platforms. This helps keep workers away from hazardous tasks and prevents the continuation of the injury/fatality trends of the past few decades. The new generation will be operators in charge of their equipment, trained to understand the operational/safety issues involved, and empowered to effectively manage their individual work as a connected part of the overall safety and reliability program.
Requiring a shift in mindset by management from seeing this as an expenditure to seeing it as an investment, the implementation of operational and safety technologies allows the modern workforce to do more with less. This helps the industry survive with a smaller workforce and overcome a great deal of the skills/knowledge gap, while allowing newer, more effective safety programs to be instituted. Individuals managing technology drives the new era of electrical (and general) workplace safety.